With Rob and Jo traipsing in and around Yorkshire over the next few days Barry thought it an opportune time to tell us a story or two about his mum. Today’s story is about a washing mangle.
She lived a full life and like millions of her era had witnessed at least two world wars and the Great Depression. But none of those or similar events dampened her love of life and her faith in The Almighty. I’ll touch on this last part further down the page.
She was the strength of our family and made tough decisions look easy. She kept her criticisms of others to herself. But willingly gave all of her compassion to the world.
All through the harrowing times of Struggle Street her humour remained a major part of her survival kit – both dark and otherwise and this was evident in the many stories she would tell from when she was a girl living in Northwest Terrace, Smallthorne to the day she took the decision that we were to move to Australia. Nothing seemed to daunt her. If it did we never knew about it.
She would laugh quietly when telling us the stories of her families and I would sometimes wonder if she should have been shedding a tear or two instead. But then again, as stated above, her humour was her way of saying no matter what obstacle she faced she conquered her way. In fact, she would nearly always have a solution to hand when others around her were still pondering the problem. Yes, my mum seemed to take the tough decisions without missing a beat and would say time and again that there was always a solution for every problem encountered.
This is not to say there was not a private side to her humour and the best example to demonstrate this is when she would say to us that whist she enjoyed her mortal journey back to her God there were a ‘couple of things’ she wanted to talk about when she next saw Him. What those ‘couple of things’ were she never did say. But her telling smile suggested He wasn’t in too much trouble.
Going together with her delightful humour was her capacity to lace phrases with irony whilst blending them with fact – at times in subtle ways as to go straight over your head if you weren’t paying attention.
She was a Smallthorne girl to the end. She was a Staffordshire girl to the end and her pride on both counts was always on show. She may have later lived in Hanley, Bucknall and Western Australia. But her stories always left the listener in no doubt as to her pedigree. That she could be both fiercely proud and very humble of her beginnings, and all that she achieved for her families, sometimes left me wondering whether such feelings and emotions were just us – Staffordshire folk. Ah, it was so easy to share her pride because it simply hugged you.
With you permission dear reader here is one of the many of my mum’s stories.
It was back in 1936 when mum, dad and my two older brothers were living in Hulton Street, Far Green – a dilapidated terraced house that should have been demolished years before and used as back-fill for one of the nearby disused mine shafts. But it was all they could afford on dad’s money. My eldest sister and yours truly weren’t even twinkles in their eyes back then. Anyway, it was agreed that mum would do part-time work cleaning for a family in Birches Head. That is: mum had called around the posh houses in and around the vicinity of Far Green and got part-time work cleaning the house of a well known business family. According to mum the pay wasn’t great. But it helped to keep the financial wolves from the door.
Then one day the lady of the house informed mum that the business’ cash flow for the week had not been good and suggested she pay mum in kind – in kind being a very small food parcel. Over time this became the norm: hand-me-down clothes; old shoes in a state of disrepair; and so on. The Birches Head lady also reminded mum that not many ‘employers’ allowed their ‘staff’ to bring along their children and feed them too. Feeding, according to mum, was usually bread and dripping. But it was money that was needed so mum decided to tell her ‘employer’ she would be looking elsewhere for work that paid in pennies. Needless to say the lady of the house was disappointed to hear this and tried to persuade mum to change her mind. This time though, the offer was unique – to say the least.
Whilst the business’ cash flow was said to be less than profitable it was enough in helping to buy new furniture and laundry items for the Birches Head family’s home. It was suggested to mum that she accepted the now replaced washing mangle as payment for outstanding labour on the understanding that she be responsible for arranging its removal to Far Green.
According to mum the cast iron devil had four small iron wheels approximately 4 inches in diameter, the wooden wringer rollers were well worn that you could see clear through the gap in the middle, and the handle was said to be slightly bent as to squeak when being rotated. Despite all that the lady of the house knew she was on a winner because she had heard my mum’s muttered longing of having such a machine.
My lovely mum quickly determined she wanted the mangle and the deal was struck. All that was needed now was to remove the mangle before the lady of the house changed her mind.
For those of you who are familiar with the geography and topography of Far Green vis-à-vis
Birches Head will know that it’s downhill nearly all the way to Far Green with a steep gradient from Birches Head Road onto Chell Street.
Without further ado my mum instructed my eldest brother (Thomas, 8 years) to put my second eldest brother (Alan, 2 years) into the pram and to stay close whilst she went about the task of removing the mangle before pushing it all the way to Far Green.
With a giggle every time she was asked to tell the story she says that almost anyone and everyone in Far Green heard the heavy rumbling of that mangle as it was being pushed out of Birches Head Road onto Chell Street and toward the junction of Hulton and Merrick Streets. According to my dad the mangle made more din than a shift change of miners’ clogs on the cobblestones such was the noise it made.
I remember that mangle because we still had it in Bucknall when, in 1950, my dad bought mum a brand new washing machine complete with its own wringer on a swivel arm.
What’s that, what happened to the old mangle? It was put out in the back yard of our Millward Road home and, over time, became lost to the naked eye covered by a climbing rose. Strangers to our house would not have known it was there.
See you later…
January 29, 2005